Story & Photography by Manos Angelakis
additional Photography courtesy of Mohonk Mountain House
Mohonk Mountain House
1000 Mountain Rest Road
New Paltz, NY 12561
It is a throwback to another era. The Mohonk Mountain House is a sprawling Victorian castle, a 265-room National Historic Landmark resort hotel in the Hudson River Valley, with a 140-year history, 90 miles north of Manhattan. It is the only year-round US resort owned and operated by the same family throughout its long history.
Beginning as a 10-room tavern overlooking the lake, it was purchased and converted to a summer residence, then reconverted to a hotel by Albert Smiley and his twin brother Alfred, and expanded through the years by the family to its current size. To enhance the landscape, roads, trails, and gardens were added to the large natural park surrounding the building. The family is still involved in the resort’s day-to-day operations; Nina Smiley is in charge of marketing.
The resort is all-inclusive, including most activities and three full meals each day. In the winter, there is ice-skating in a spectacular outdoor covered pavilion, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and swimming in the indoor heated pool. In the summer, tennis, boating, swimming, and fishing in the resort’s lake, as well as rock climbing. Year round, there is hiking, a variety of exercise and yoga classes, organized kid’s activities, afternoon tea and cookies, and evening dancing. Special weekend themed events also take place, such as a “Spa Getaway”, a “Scottish Weekend” that provides total immersion into Scotland’s history, culture, and cuisine, or “Mohonk on Ice” with Olympic Gold Medalist Oksana Baiul, and of course “A Rock ‘n’ Roll Weekend” with Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow - comb your DA, don you poodle skirt with three starched crinolines under it, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The particular weekend we were there, was “A taste of Tuscany Weekend” that started with soprano Catherine Thorpe and her Aria Code ensemble singing beloved arias from various Italian operas on Friday evening. On Saturday morning there was a cooking demonstration and tasting by Master Chefs Ken Arnone and Noble Masi from the nearby Culinary Institute of America featuring a seafood risotto and red-wine risotto preparation. On Saturday afternoon, a very well attended Tuscan wine tasting (at additional cost) at Mohonk’s Conference Center, across the lake from the main building, was presided over by Kevin Zraly, the wine educator of “Windows on the World Wine School” fame, and a reception followed with traditional Tuscan hors d’ œuvres while Kevin signed copies of his book. Sunday morning, the resort’s Executive Chef Jim Palmeri did a hands-on demonstration of making gnocchi with porcini mushrooms, basil and Asiago cheese.
The Carriage Lounge is the resort’s bar, and has an excellent collection of single-malt whiskies, bourbons, and ports as well as practically any spirit one can think of. Nino Franco, the resident mixologist, mixes a mean cocktail, but I spied on one of the shelves a 1986 Smith Woodhouse colheita port that had spent 21 years in wood before bottling and releasing in 2007. Barbara decided that a prosecco cocktail was right for her before dinner. The Lounge also serves light meals and finger-food for those inclined to follow the advice “Never drink on an empty stomach”.
Mohonk’s culinary team has received numerous awards for their abilities and the Main Dinning Room on the second floor, a very large semicircular room, features meals based on modern American cuisine, emphasizing the use of seasonal, local and regional ingredients. Breakfast and lunch feature bountiful buffets, dinner is a served four-course meal (two appetizers or salads, a main course and dessert). If there are many children present for dinner, the management makes available either the East or West Dinning Rooms on the ground floor for adults only. In addition to the selections on the printed menu, there are daily specials, as well as “Sound Choice” indications on the menu that feature dishes reduced in fat, calories, and sodium. Kosher meals are available on request.
It should be noted that many come as Day Meal Guests to have brunch, lunch, or dinner. The meal price, paid in advance, includes entrance to the grounds and admission to the House.
The first evening I tried the Hudson Valley Artisan Cheese plate that featured a wonderful hard goat cheese that paired very well with a raspberry/ginger chutney. My second appetizer plate was a made in-house properly coarse Country Pâté with Cornichons, Brioche, and Mustard Seed Oil. Excellent!
Barbara started with the Pan Roasted Sea Scallops with Celery Root Brandade, and Port, which was as pretty to look at, as it was delicious to eat. Her second appetizer was the Butternut Squash Chowder with Crème Fraîche and Chive. Chunky squash, potato, and celery in a smooth, creamy vegetable purée.
The main courses followed; a Braised Lamb Shank with Creamed Barley and Baby Red Carrots, for me. The shank was properly cooked, tasty and very tender, but the barley was a little more al dente than I like. Actually, it’s a question of taste; some people like their grains undercooked and others, like me, like them a bit softer. Unfortunately, Barbara’s main course Sautéed Black Cod with Sweet Onion and Fennel Ragoût with Red Quinoa Pilaf, suffered from both an unsuccessful combination of tastes and a very overcooked fish. Having grown up in Greece, I like my fish cooked just enough to turn the flesh opaque. Barbara entrusts me to cook the fish in our home, so when we eat out and the fish is overcooked, she immediately notices. Now, my in-laws would probably find the cod absolutely acceptable, but we agree it was overcooked. Considering the fact though that the rest of the meals we had, including the buffets, were very good, I will not count the fish against the kitchen. Perhaps, like a steak, the waiters should ask the patrons how they would like their fish cooked.
The award-winning wine list offers a wide range of selections to accompany any meal. I was very happy to see one of my favorite off-dry Rieslings on the list, from Dr. Constantine Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars of New York’s Finger Lakes. An excellent wine that paired particularly well with the appetizer courses.
The restaurant staff is very well trained and accommodating. One breakfast, when only American cheeses, yellow and white, were left at the buffet, I asked our waitress to see if she could bring some decent cheese from the kitchen. After a few minutes, she came back with a big smile and a chunk of Gouda, and a piece of ripe Camembert; both were perfect.
Noteworthy in the lunch buffet was a luscious spinach salad with candied, semi-dry figs, dusted with pistachio meat, drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette.
The Sunday Brunch offers omelets made to order, a soup and salad bar, carving stations, u-peel shrimp, assorted bagels and lox, along with a bountiful dessert buffet featuring a chocolate fountain!
The Mohonk's Holiday Grand Buffets, served in all three dining rooms are tempting, with international and domestic cheeses, a variety of galantines and pates, an array of smoked and cured seafood, salads, carved-to-order meats, hot specialties and, of course, the delectable desserts.
A weekend at the Mohonk Mountain House is perfect for both families and couples. There are enough activities to keep everyone occupied, and if you want to do nothing, that’s OK too; there is a library with a large collection of books and the day’s newspapers. There is a computer room to check your emails or read stories on the Internet. There is the lovely 30,000 square foot spa (see Spa Section). You can always roam the grounds or explore the building with its many Victorian or Edwardian sitting rooms and parlors.
We enjoyed very much our Tuscan weekend in the Catskills, and so would you.
© March 2009 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.